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Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: Trudging Through the Complex Legal Labyrinth of Child Molestation Cases

Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.

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Any good trial lawyer knows a compelling opening statement can have a major, acerbic impact on the jury. Likewise, a good writer recognizes a first paragraph must include a lively hook.  But making pithy wisecracks about Mama June et al.’s self-proclaimed “redneck” lifestyle on TLC’s hit “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is entirely inappropriate when we talk about child molestation.   

Rape is rape.  Child molestation is one of the ugliest forms of the human condition. Children should be nurtured, protected and cherished, not abused and discarded.

TLC axed “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” when allegations surfaced that star Anna Marie “Chickadee” Cardwell said she was molested by Mark McDaniel, a convicted sex offender, who has been romantically linked with her mother, “Mama JuneShannon

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Anna, now 20 and a mother herself, says McDaniel molested her at age 8, when he was dating her mother. (After the assault, Anna moved to her grandmother’s house and she only returned to live with her mother shortly before “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” began filming.)

McDaniel was indicted in Spalding County for rape, child molestation, aggravated child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes and aggravated sexual battery.  As part of a plea deal, McDaniel plead guilty to aggravated child molestation of an unidentified minor and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. McDaniel is currently a registered sex offender in Georgia.

It is critical to understand child molestation cases can be extremely difficult to prosecute. Many of them are dismissed as minors prove to be unreliable witnesses, often telling different versions of a story. Therefore their testimony is given little weight even when they are telling the truth.  Anna stated her mother opted to believe McDaniel instead of her.  If Anna’s own mother didn’t believe her, a prosecutor might think, why would a jury of strangers believe her?  Physical evidence is another hurdle: unless you get a child to the ER for a rape evaluation ASAP, it can be challenging to prove the physical signs of abuse. 

Mama June claims she has not seen McDaniel since he was released from Dodge State Prison in March.  Photographs tell a far different story, showing Mama June, McDaniel and Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson house hunting together. If Mama June brought McDaniel back into the family fold, it is clear she placed her needs above those of her children, and that is something the law should not tolerate.

Child molestation is far more insidious than spray tans, teeth bleaching and caffeinated cocktails exhibited on “Toddlers & Tiaras,” all of which formed the basis for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to visit Mama June at her rural McIntyre, Georgia residence in 2012.  No charges were ever filed.

Now it appears DFCS has opened an investigation into whether any crimes have been committed involving Mama June’s three minor children – Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, Lauryn “Pumpkin” Shannon, 14 and Jessica “Chubbs” Shannon, 17 – now that Mama June may be back together with child molester McDaniel.

When a report is received that a sex offender is living with or making contact with children, DFCS becomes involved.  The first question Georgia’s DFCS will have to ask in this instance is whether the allegations as reported are true.  If they are accurate, the chief consideration for the DFCS then becomes whether Mama June is able to keep her minor daughters safe from the man who molested Anna.

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A social worker will make formal contact with all of Mama June’s children, as well as any other minors that might have had an exchange with McDaniel.  Anyone under 18 can be taken from a parent’s care if the division determines the environment for the youngster is unsafe.

A typical child services investigation can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days, but because of the high-profile nature of this case, it could take longer.  It should be noted too that the public is not privy to the details of the investigation due to privacy laws, but the findings of “celebrity” investigations tend to get leaked more often than they are kept sealed.

If claims of a reconciliation between Mama June and McDaniel prove to be true, a child welfare agency lawyer could file a petition against Mama June and advocate on behalf of the child who may be in danger to ensure the state’s laws governing child protection proceedings are met. 

You may be surprised to learn that removal of children from their families, as the primary response to abuse and neglect, ended in 1980 with passage of the Child Welfare Act (CWA).  The CWA requires state child welfare agencies to make “reasonable efforts” to keep a child with his or her family.  Is preservation of the family unit an achievable goal when there is sexual abuse of a minor by a parent or the parent’s significant other? 

Consider this hugely alarming fact: Spalding County Superior Court documents show Mama June’s then-three-year-old daughter Lauryn “Pumpkin” Shannon was in the bed while McDaniel molested Anna. 

If child psychologists, social workers and lawyers can provide professional support and preventative services to a family in crisis, does that change your answer to the question above regarding the government’s family preservation objective?

None of these issues are easy to resolve.  Grab your gavel, use your commonsense and join the conversation.  You be the judge and weigh in on these matters surrounding the cast of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” 

 

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